R.I.P.A better known as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 regulates the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation. In short it enables the Police and the secret service to access your phone records without talking to a judge and getting his permission. The act also prevents the existence of interception warrants and any data collected with them from being revealed in court. That’s right, not only can the police & MI5 access your phone records, but should they choose to prosecute someone using that information that person would have no legal entitlement to disclosure.
Pretty scary when you think about it, that you can have a private conversation with a friend or a contact and its not really even private? What if for example, a whistle blower wished to divulge some information on atrocities carried out during the theatre of war in say, Syria? What if in doing so that whistle blower was breaking the law but also ensuring that hundreds more lives would be saved? What if the only thing standing between that person and prison was your promise to protect their identity? Under RIPA this would be a promise which despite your best intentions you would be unable to keep.
Worse still, once prosecuted that person would find themselves wondering whether you were the one who divulged your source, since they would be allowed no evidence to the contrary. Think Bradley/Chelsea Manning’s release of data that showed Iraqi civilians being bombed ‘for the pleasure of it’ by American soldiers. His ‘treachery’ showed us tons of truths about the Iraqi war. Would we have had to wait for the information to leak out in ‘drips’ and ‘drabs’ through the mouths of former prisoners whose words we might very well have discounted anyway?
RIPA also permits certain public bodies, such as the police, to monitor peoples internet activities. Rather like an employer who is anti-trade union, who decides to give themselves the contractual right to snoop on their employees internet use at work. Such a thing happened at one company I worked for and they used that permission to warn employees off protesting about their lack of employment rights. They also used it to keep tabs on those employees intent upon setting up a union ( in 21st century England? Yep, I know!). Unsurprisingly, they had one of the highest incidences of workplace corruption I had ever observed.
But back to RIPA, how does a journalist or activist investigate abuses perpetrated by public bodies like the police, if the people they’re investigating are several steps ahead of the game? How do we ensure that the most vulnerable in society are protected, that their rights are defended if the opposition is able to intrude upon every conversation had via email, the telephone and social networking sites? We are told that RIPA is being used in the interests of national security, for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime and for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.
Nobody objects to RIPA being used to fight gang crime, in fact some might say that if it were used in that regard a lot more there would be no need for ‘Joint Enterprise’ laws. But then observe the case of former Metropolitan Police officer, Jeremy Young, jailed for twenty seven months for various offences including six counts of conspiracy to intercept communications unlawfully. And of three other former police officers and a private detective who were also jailed for their part in running a private detective agency called Active Investigation Services.
It seems we have an act in place that is supposed to help safeguard the public against acts of terrorism and criminality. Yet in reality what we’ve been handed is little more than a ‘spies charter’.